Blogging 101, Day One: Introduce Yourself


Day One’s assignment is to forget about what your blog looks like or even if it has a proper name yet, and to write a “Who I am and why I’m here” post. It may seem a little bit obvious to introduce yourself when starting up your blog, but lots of people don’t do it right off the get-go, and plenty never do it. I’ve checked out tons of blogs that left me wondering, “Who the hell is this person and why should I care about what he/she has to say?”

The fact is, as The Daily Post explains, that writing that introduction post has the joint benefits of letting your prospective audience know what to expect from you, as well as helping you yourself decide what this whole blog thing is going to be all about. You can write exclusively about yourself (pro tip: people care about you more if they feel like they know you), or explain your goals and reason for starting the blog, or even just write about how you honestly have no idea what you’re doing yet. The point is to get words down, to have something available for your prospective readers to look at and (hopefully) think, “Hmm. This person sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll follow.”

When I first started this blog I wrote just such a post, one that – while it didn’t give up much information – gave an idea of who I might be as a blogger. It was a small example of my voice, of what people might have to look forward to if they chose to follow me. In retrospect I may have been a little more forthcoming with the personal information, as this blog has now become a key component in my author platform, but we all have to start somewhere.

So for argument sake, and to be able to say that I did, in fact, do the “assignment”, here’s my new “Who I am and why I’m here” post:

My name is Tracey Lynn Tobin. I’m a 30-year-old wife and mother of one spectacularly cool little girl. I’m trained and regularly work as an Industrial Instrumentation technician, but at the core I am, and always will be, a writer. I’ve been writing fiction since the third grade, and while I’ve had numerous breaks from writing as I’ve grown, I’ve always come back to it. In recent years I have focused a lot more on my writing, on refining my style, on finishing what I start, and on building an audience. I’ve not been published as yet, but I plan to be in the near future, with my first novel being a zombie apocalypse that I’ve been working on for a few years now, called Nowhere to Hide. This blog serves the dual purposes of helping me to build that audience I spoke of, while also being a way to keep myself writing even when writing seems impossible.

Oh, and by the way, I love horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, and I’m happy to talk at length about my many obsessions, which include the Marvel Universe, the Whedonverse, and Super-Who-Lock (Google it ^_~).

There…how’s that for an introduction? 🙂

The second part of the assignment is to ensure that you give your post some good tags, the kind that a search engine will snag and lead readers to your post. For example, for the purpose of this post I’ll make sure that I tag “Marvel Universe”, “Whedonverse”, and “Super-Who-Lock”, because those three things are certain to be regularly searched on the multitude of search engines. The fact that I’ve included them in my post won’t necessarily bring anyone here, but put it this way: if you don’t put the tags in there, search engines have no way to identify your post, and no reason to bring it up in any search results.

Two extra things that I’ll mention that aren’t actually part of the Blogging 101 assignment:

When considering the tags that you’re going to use for your post, remember to identify yourself in some way. As Kristen Lamb explains in Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, there is going to come a time when people are going to be searching for you by name, and whether that name is your real one or a pseudonym, it makes it a hell of a lot easier for people to track it down if it is attached to your blog as often as possible. Step back and imagine what you would type into Google if you were searching for a particular person. For example, since picking up the tip from Kristen, I’ve started tagging each and every one of my posts with the two tags: “Tracey Lynn Tobin blogger” and “Tracey Lynn Tobin writer”. That one little change alone has made it so that now if you go to Google and search for my name, every result on the first page is actually me.

And the last thing that I’ll point out is that the “introduction” post you’ve just created makes an excellent “About Me” page for your blog. As previously mentioned, people are more apt to care about what you have to say if they feel like they know you a little bit, so making sure that you share that information in a way that is easily accessible can be a very important step to creating a successful blog.

That’s it for Day One! Catch you all tomorrow!

Things That I Think North American Schools Should Change

I’m not a teacher. I have absolutely no affiliation to the educational system at all, unless you count the fact that I have a couple of cousins and a couple of friends who happen to be teachers. I have not taken part in any studies, or done any of my own, though I have read a fair few. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the business side of the system, and honestly, I don’t care to. For the most part I am simply a woman who went through the educational system as a kid, and now has a child who will eventually be going through that same educational system. I just wanted to clarify that because what will follow are opinions; some of them are backed up by information I have read at one point or another, but mostly they are just opinions based on what I went through, and what I happen to know is occurring in our schools right now. Feel free to disagree with my points because, again, I am not a teacher, and I am not affiliated with the educational system in any meaningful way.

And with that out of the way, these are a few things that I think North American schools should seriously consider changing.

This is what I feel the system has basically boiled down to.

Start Paying Attention to Spelling and Grammar Again

This may not be a problem everywhere in North America, but it has come to my attention through several teachers I know that the education system concerning itself with such little things as spelling and grammar has become a thing of the past. While these two subjects are still technically taught, they are not graded in any way. My friends tell me that all that is important anymore is the intent of the words written. One friend in particular told me that she could get an essay with every last word spelled incorrectly and not a single piece of punctuation anywhere on the thing, but if she can understand what the student is trying to say and the topic of the essay is sound, she has to give them perfect marks. They cannot take away points for a complete inability to properly use the English language.

The reasoning behind this one is essentially that spelling and grammar are all but unnecessary these days because almost all of the writing we do is on computers or handheld devices, and that technology allows us to “spell check” at any point we so choose. Therefore, the experts say, time and energy spent drilling proper written language skills into our kids’ heads is time wasted…they can always just get the computer or their smartphone to fix all the errors for them. In a way I agree somewhat…that time could probably be better spent on other topics. But there’s a problem in that logic, namely the fact that spell checkers are far from foolproof. I know tons of people who had spelling forced down their throats as kids who still don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re, or the proper use of then and than, or how to use commas to properly show a list of items, and now we’re not even bothering to try to get kids to learn these things? Spell check is a great thing, but it doesn’t help you determine which homonym you meant to use, and auto-correct will often give you a completely different word from the one you intended to use. This refusal to spend time on spelling and grammar is going to result in generations of young people sending out resumes that make them look like they’ve never attended a day of grade school in their lives.

I’m not saying that spelling and grammar should take up a huge amount of the grade of an essay or other written work, but it should definitely count for something.

A Lot More Tests Should Be Open Book

Let’s be perfectly honest here. Memorization means nothing. Memorizing a bunch of facts and figures so that you can regurgitate them on a test proves only one thing: that you have a halfway decent memory. It doesn’t prove your ability to comprehend the material, use it properly, or locate it when necessary. It is my genuine belief that our kids would be much better off being taught how to find information rather than how to stuff it in their heads just long enough to spew it back out onto an exam paper. Think about it; do you rely on your memory when dealing with your job? Maybe to some extent you do, when you’re doing something that you’ve done over and over a thousand times, but do you honestly rely on what you think you remember from school when such an opportunity arises? No, you don’t, because you don’t want to make a stupid mistake based on what you believe you may remember from goodness-knows-how-long-ago. Can you imagine if a doctor performed a surgery that they’d never done before based on what they remembered from med school that, oh by the way, they graduated from over a decade ago? You wouldn’t feel too comfortable about that, would you?

No, it’s my opinion that in this day and age, when there are literally a million different ways that you can type something into Google to find the answer to a question, our kids would be much better served being taught how to locate information and determine whether it is accurate information, rather than memorizing it just long enough to not have to think about it again until their kids are learning it.

The Way We Teach Math Should be Seriously Reconsidered

Math is an excellent skill to have, don’t get me wrong on that, and I’m a huge advocate of kids having things like the multiplication tables drilled into their heads so that they can do quick math on a moment’s notice (have you ever tried calculating a tip or figuring out how much your grocery order is going to cost with tax and just made your own head hurt?). However, here’s the thing. Back when I was in school it was very common for teachers to refuse to let students use calculators, all while spewing the sentence: “You have to learn to do this manually because you’re not always going to have a calculator in your pocket all the time.” Sound familiar? I’m certain that every student for decades heard that sentence thrown back at them, and yet now we know it to be false. How many people in this day and age don’t have a cell phone with them most of the time? Even super-old cell phones have a calculator function, so yeah, we really do have a calculator in our pocket at all times these days. That’s not to say that I think kids should just stop learning math because they don’t really need to know how to do it, but how often in the work world do you think people rely wholly on their own mathematical prowess? If your job relies on calculations, are you really going to trust your ability to work those calculations out on your own? Do you think that chemists, architects, and rocket scientists work without a calculator? Not if they want to keep their jobs for very long, they don’t.

No, I do believe that kids should have to learn the methods, but I think they should spend less time laboring over question after question and spend more time learning the proper use of computing devices. They should be able to do the basics, but when it comes to advanced mathematics they should know how to properly use a computer, calculator, or whatever ever devices they may require to come to the desired conclusion. We definitely want our kids to know enough math to be able to look at the result they got using a calculator and think, “That doesn’t look right” (because technology is not flawless either), but yes, I think we should be teaching them to use calculators in the first place because I don’t know about you but I don’t want the people running our nuclear power plants to be working out all their numbers by hand on paper.

“Split” Classes Should Not Be a Thing…Ever

Split classes probably don’t exist everywhere, but they’ve popped up in my neck of the woods in past years so I’m going to explain. Say, for example (I’m just grabbing numbers out of the air here) that the school board has decided that there can be a maximum of 30 kids in one class with one teacher. Now say that this year we have 40 first grade students and 40 preschool students. Instead of splitting the numbers evenly and having two first grade classes and two preschool classes with 20 students in each, what happens instead is that they do “split” classes. That means that they have one first grade class with 30 students, one preschool class with 30 students, and one first grade/preschool split class with 20 students…half of them trying to learn first grade material and half of them trying to learn preschool material with one teacher.

I understand that there’s a financial aspect to this and that when we’re talking about budget it’s better to have three classes with three teachers than four classes with four teachers teaching the same number of children, but it’s my belief that this is an extraordinarily terrible set-up for the children. For one thing you have one teacher trying to focus two different curriculum into one, which means that someone is losing out somewhere: either the older kids are leaning less for their age group or the younger kids are having more advanced information forced on them. For another thing, you have the age gap between classmates which isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to social interaction. For example, my daughter is going to be one of the youngest kids in her class when she starts school because her birthday is just barely before the cut-off point. Other kids will be the oldest kids in their classes because their birthdays come right after the cut-off and therefore have to wait until the following year to start school. That means that it’s entirely possible (and likely) that my daughter could be starting school at 5 years old, and have 7-year-olds in her class with her. At certain points that age gap wouldn’t mean a lot, but there are definitely points at which I personally believe it makes a huge difference. There’s a heck of a difference in maturity levels between a 5-year-old and a 7-year old, and I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable with those two age-groups mixing on a social level. My daughter and her cousin are about a year and a half apart, and while they get along and love each other, I couldn’t fathom having them in the same class at school, being taught the same material and having the same expectations imposed upon them.

Split classes are often toted as being aimed toward advancing kids who are already a little advanced – in other words, put the smartest kids in the split class and they’ll get to learn more material sooner – but personally I think it’s nothing more than a way to save money and is almost definitely doing damage to at least some of those kids. It’s one thing to skip a grade because you and your parents and your teacher discussed it and decided that you’re too advanced for the material that you’re currently being taught, but it’s an entirely different thing to be forced into more advanced material – along with having to learn to deal with a different age group of children being in the same room as you all day every day – just because you happen to be in the upper percentile of the kids that you just happened to start school with.


Look, I don’t want to see kids suffer. If there’s a kid who, for instance, just doesn’t get math no matter how hard he tries, I don’t want to see him punished for that, because some kids just don’t mesh with some subjects. By all means, take that kid and work out a special math program for him so that he can still work through the system and move along while working on subjects that he is able to understand.

However, I can’t tell you how much I hate this “no child left behind” concept. I’m certain that someone could quote lots of psychological pros for having a schooling system in which children can never fail, the same way that someone decided it would be a great idea to take the ball away from kids playing soccer so that there’s no way anyone can lose. Regardless of your feelings on this system, here’s the problem with the overall thing: those kids – the ones who have been pushed through their education for a dozen years and have never had to deal with any kind of consequences based on their own effort or lack thereof – are eventually going to find out that the real world doesn’t give two shakes of a rat’s tail about their delicate emotions. When you spend twelve years showing a child that they’ll still move on regardless of how much or how little work they do, they’re going to learn to do as little work as possible to get by. And then when those kids hit the real world, the real world hits back…hard. College professors couldn’t care less about a student’s feelings; they aren’t going to allow them to pass a course just to make sure they continue to feel good about themselves. Employers aren’t going to give a damn about participation awards or what great self-esteem a person has; they will fire employees who refuse to put in a full day of honest-to-goodness work and they won’t think twice about how that firing will affect their ex-employee’s psyche.

By taking away any chance for a child to fail, we’re creating generations of young people who genuinely believe that the world is going to be handed to them on a silver platter, and can’t handle it when that doesn’t happen. By avoiding having to teach kids about what it means to lose, we’re telling them that they don’t ever actually have to try. By insisting that every kid is equally capable in all things, we’re taking wave after wave of kids and building them up for enormous disappointments later on in life. And here’s the thing… When kids are still young, we can teach them to deal with disappointment, to understand that not everyone can be good at everything, and that you have to put in hard work if you want to succeed; but if you teach them the opposite of all that for the first nineteen years of their lives, how are they supposed to handle the disappointment then, when they can’t get a job and they’re stuck living in their parents’ basement and they have absolutely nothing going for them at all? If you were told your entire life that you were the strongest person in the world, how would you feel when you finally went out into the world and the first person you came across punched you right in the nose and knocked you the hell out?

It sucks seeing kids fail, it really does, and I’m a big believer in that the educational system is not adequate for every child. But pushing a child through school even if they refuse to put in the effort to try and learn is akin to paying a mechanic to take the wheels off your car and then refuse to put them back on. The only beneficiary is the child’s sense of entitlement, and lord knows we already have enough engorged senses of entitlement floating around the world these days.

If “No News is Good News”, what is Fake News?

I was still in grade school when this crazy thing we call the Internet really started to take off. I can still remember the day when our school got it’s first public-use computer. My best friend and I were two of the students chosen to check it out first. I can remember one of the first things we did was to set up our very first Hotmail email accounts. It was all rather exciting.

Since then the Internet has only grown and grown. It has become a place of endless information. A person can type almost anything into Google and come back with hundreds, if not thousands, of results. The Internet has allowed us to share news, information, thoughts and feelings, habits and hobbies, and anything else we can think of with people from the opposite side of the planet and everywhere in between. For the first time in human history we can know exactly what is going on on the other side of world as it is happening. That’s pretty damn amazing.

But while the ever-expanding World Wide Web is filled with a great many wonderful and helpful things, it is also rife with pitfalls and truly excellent methods to make one look excruciatingly foolish. Everything has become so fast, so instant, and so often irreversible, that it only takes a moment of not thinking clearly or a quick slip of the finger in order to do something dumb. It takes half a second to hit a “like” or “share” button, and in this day of rushed moments and instant gratification we often do so without even bothering to look twice at the thing that we’re allying ourselves with publicly.

The worst offenders of this, in my opinion, are Facebook users sharing “news”.

Facebook has become a great place to share things that are important to us. If we see a news report talking about something we feel strongly about, it is a simple thing for us to share that report on our Facebook wall where we know that it will be seen, and possibly re-shared, by our friends and family and hopefully lots of other people as well. This is a great way to get important issues out there.

It’s also a great way to make yourself look like a moron.

Too often, I’ve found, people have become apt to “like”, “share”, and leave complicated, emotion-fueled comments in response to big, scary-looking news stories…without ever once bothering to read the story.

This past Black Friday there was a very scary-sounding story floating around Facebook. It described a number of brutal deaths at the hands of insane shoppers, including one woman who had stabbed another woman to death in order to secure the last XBox One in Walmart. When I saw the story pop up on my Facebook feed I immediately raised a skeptical eyebrow and clicked on the link to read the whole article. It quickly became evident that the article was a joke. It got more and more foolish as it went on, describing complete nonsense and throwing several outright, completely obvious lies in near the end. Anyone who took the two minutes required to read the entire article would easily figure out that it was a load of bull. If they took an extra five seconds to Google the name of the news source they’d have found out that that particular website was a joke and satire news site, much like The Onion. Everything they report is made up.

From what I saw on my Facebook feed over the following few days, my husband and I were some of the only people who bothered to take that two minutes and five seconds out of our day. Multiple people on my Facebook feed shared that story, along with angry comments about how Black Friday is evil and the big corporations who support it should be ashamed of themselves. One such friend actually argued with people who commented back to tell him that the article was fake, only giving in when people started quoting the ridiculous end parts of the article that he hadn’t actually bothered to read.

These things happen on a daily basis now-a-days because people are much more willing to take the one second required to hit “share” than the two minutes required to fact-check and see whether the thing they’re sharing is true or not. It’s an extremely lazy reaction that allows false information to thrive, and makes otherwise intelligent people look like emotion-driven fools.

Recently Colorado decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Immediately afterward Facebook feeds were pasted with the sensational headline, “Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization”. People were losing their minds over this headline, and as well they should have…had it been even the tiniest bit true. The article was posted on a website called The Daily Currant, a website which, when searched for on Google, comes up with the subtitle: The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record. But no one bothered to visit the website. They simply saw the headline, got mad, and shared the link without ever looking into the facts. Whether you agree or disagree with the legalization of marijuana, this is a terrible method for getting your point across.

We are emotional creatures, it’s true. We hate waiting and love moving at breakneck speeds. It’s in our nature. But when we use the internet in the manner I’ve described above, we make ourselves look stupid. We paint a picture of ourselves as gullible fools and destroy any faith that others may have in us as a reliable source. We ruin our image. And a lot of the time, no one even bothers to let us know how foolish we’ve been, because fools like to try to argue and defend themselves, which only makes them look even more foolish.

I won’t claim that I’ve never fallen for such a thing myself – I’m fairly certain all of us have tripped over a false claim here and there – but I will point out that blindly believing in something that sparks an emotional reaction is how we end up with situations like this.

Do a little research, friends. The same tool that allows you to share big scary news reports with everyone you’ve ever met, and everyone they’ve ever met, is the same tool that can help you get your facts straight in just a few short moments.

Keep Calm and Repair On

One of the great truths of life is that unexpected expenses are most likely to arise when one is not in the financial position to deal with them (such as being unemployed). Have you noticed this?

Then again, what at first appears to be an unexpected expense can be easily remedied if you’re willing to put in a bit of work.

A little over four years ago my husband and I negotiated for the appliances to be included in the purchase of our house because we didn’t want to have to deal with going out and buying all new appliances while we were dealing with the stress of moving. It didn’t take us long after the move to realize that this may have been a poor decision, as the previous owners of the house were not exactly easy on their appliances. On moving day my mother and aunt spent over an hour scrubbing the inside of the stove, which looked like it had never been cleaned since the day it was purchased. The washing machine, I soon learned, was similarly treated; there was so much gunk along the top of the drum that I’m amazed no one ever got sick just from being near it.

But we did our best to clean up the appliances and so far they’ve served us just fine. Some of them can be a little temperamental at times, but they’ve, for the most part, worked just fine for the past four years.

Then, yesterday, a couple of months into my and my husband’s joint unemployment, our dryer mysteriously died. I nearly had an aneurysm right then and there because I had literally just put a load of laundry into the washer…a load that contained every pair of pants that I own.

This is how my morning went yesterday. How was yours?
This is how my morning went yesterday. How was yours?

Here’s were a little bit of patience (ha ha ha ha ha…) and Google can be excellent assets. See, instead of traipsing right off to Sears to look for a new dryer and forking over several hundred dollars that we can’t really afford at the moment, I began to dismantle the dryer. I quickly found that the dryer drum belt had snapped, meaning that the dryer couldn’t turn. Two minutes on Google showed that the belt cost about $20. Twenty bucks. Instead of several hundred. My husband looked up a very helpful video that showed how to properly replace a dryer belt, then ran out to get the part (since I had no pants). We had to settle for a part meant for another brand of dryer, but it was identical to what we needed and still only cost $20.

And so, as I stated on my Facebook page yesterday:
“Four hours of working in my pajama pants, about two hundred screws and bolts, half a vacuum canister worth of dust and dirt, one off-brand part, two tetanus-shot-worthy gashes, and an uncountable number of profanities, and we’re drying clothes again. Thank f#$&.”

Don’t get me wrong; every moment I was working on that dryer I wanted to pick the entire thing up and chuck it in the ditch out front of my house. But in the end a little bit of frustration saved us a ton of money. Instead of just rushing out for a new dryer, we took it upon ourselves to see if it was fixable first.

We live in a wonderful age during which instructions for just about anything can be found on Google, and I promise you that the video my husband found could have easily been followed by anyone who was technologically illiterate. The hardest instruction from the video was getting the clips that hold the dryer top down to pop open, and the most difficult part of the actual repair was cleaning out the years worth of dust and dirt that covered every part inside. If they were strong enough to hold the drum up and put tension on the belt arm, my almost-three-year-old daughter and four-year-old niece could have done the repair.

The lesson of the story is that when disaster strikes, keep calm, take to the internets, and see what you can do yourself to get yourself out of a jam. Believe me, even with the frustration that can be involved, nothing will make you feel more confident in yourself than doing a house repair all by yourself instead of wasting a bunch of money on a repairman or a brand new item.

Disconnect to Re-Connect

Recently I read a post on Girls Heart Books in which the author spoke about taking her teenagers on a vacation in a location where they could not (easily) access any Wi-Fi. The post got me thinking about the joys and failings of constantly being connected.

We live in a world where we can be connected to the entire rest of the planet all the time. We have smartphones small enough to keep in our back pocket, with enough power in them to handle almost anything we can do on a larger computer, and for the most part we can constantly have them connected to the internet and everything that entails.

In a lot of ways, having constant access makes life a lot easier. We can check on our work from home (or anywhere else we happen to be). We can contact friends and family members from wherever we are. If we’re lost, our phone’s can show us exactly where we are and how to get where we’re going. If we have a question we can access Google anytime, anywhere. We can talk to people on the other side of the planet. We have constant access to multiple forms of entertainment.

Image via Flikr WANA Commons, courtesy of Dani Jace.

But as great as all of this can be, it’s also dangerous, because so many of us these days have what’s (creatively) known as “smartphone addiction”. We use our smartphones to check our email dozens of times a day, even though we know there probably isn’t anything new there. We spend more time Tweeting and updating our Facebook statuses than actually paying attention to the world and the things we’re updating about. Our brains have a hard time remember things because we subconsciously know that we can find anything out with the few clicks of the keyboard. We share fewer actual face-to-face social reactions because we can’t get our heads off of online social media. People have even been known to walk out into traffic because they refused to look up from their smartphone screens.

I’m not high-and-mighty; I know that I’m as bad as anyone. I’ve checked my email more times in one day than the number of emails I got in that day, and I’ve been known to not notice people talking to me because I had my head buried in 9GAG. But I know enough to know that all these things are bad things. Many of the habits we’ve adopted because of “smartphone addiction” are huge time vampires, actually take us away from our friends and families rather than bringing us closer to them, and regularly put us in danger (see the aforementioned walking into traffic).

So all I’m saying is to take a break every now and then. Put the Android down and look your loved one’s in the face. Watch the fireworks instead of trying to film them with your iPhone. And for the love of puppies, your text can wait until you have a chance to stand still for a moment.

Have you ever noticed how much time you waste on your smartphone? Have you ever gotten frustrated because of someone else who can’t get their eyes off the screen? Have you, or someone you love, ever gotten into an accident because of smartphone addiction? Please share!

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 29

Before I get on with the accountability today, I want to mention a couple of things.

First, a huge hug to the new followers I’ve been getting on this blog and on Twitter. I’m not sure exactly what I’ve been doing lately that suddenly has people sneaking in out of the shadows toward my sites, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Welcome, thanks for coming, and I hope you stick around! 🙂

Second, on a whim I recently tried Googling myself, and I was quite amused to find that the first three results were actually me. I rather don’t need my 9gag profile popping up on Google, but I was happy to see that the second result was this blog and the third was my account. It’s a good sign when your real persona pops up on Google, right?

Third: a call out for info and/or advice. I’ve Googled this problem many times but I can never seem to find anything that quite matches my issue. I’ve been having trouble sleeping again (it seems to happen for several weeks at a time, a few times a year), and the issue as far as I can describe it is that I spend an inordinate amount of time in dream sleep (REM sleep), meaning that my rest isn’t, well…restful. I’m waking up feeling like hell even when I sleep 9 or more hours, and it’s very wearing. I’ve consulted my doctor before and his only suggestion was to try antidepressants, which I thought was a little silly and insulting since I’m pretty damn confident that I’m not depressed. So since I can’t seem to find any information on my own, I thought I’d ask here on the off-chance someone may know something or suffer from similar. Help?

Okay, on to the accountability.

Health and Body Image Goal

If I’m totally honest, I’ve plummeted miserably on this one. I’ve been doing no form of exercise and have been eating rather terribly. It doesn’t help that I’m experiencing sleep issues, as mentioned above. I keep trying to convince myself to get up a little early in the mornings (before it’s scorching hot out) and do my zombie runs, but I haven’t been able to manage it because I’m so damn tired. I need some motivation, terribly, and that’s a fact.

Editing Goal

It’s been a surprisingly busy week so I haven’t managed to sit down at my laptop for very long periods of time, but I’m still (slowly) plugging away at my supernatural romance. Really, really looking forward to finishing so I can submit it to a publisher and move on to my zombie apocalypse.

1,000,000 Word Goal

It hasn’t been a great week, but I did manage to get a few words in. Between blogging and a return to 750Words, I managed to get in 4802 words this week. I’m hoping to ramp it up this week through a series of ideas I’ve compiled, one of which is to use in the mornings to empty my brain of the dreams I’m plagued with every night. It might be a pro-bono situation…I get extra words, and maybe writing down the dreams will make them go the hell away. Starting this Sunday, as well, I plan to start reading The Artist’s Way and work my way through the 12-week process, so look forward to that.

29 weeks down, 23 to go. Here’s hoping the remaining 23 start to look up a little!

Keep Yourself Out of Internet Mud…or You Might Never Get Clean Again

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking a bit of time to read some “craft books” on writing, and the first one I’ve been looking at is Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines. The focus of her book is social media and how writers can use it to create a working “author platform”, but she also touches on other subjects such as traditional vs. indie publishing, marketing, and occasionally a little bit of (related) neuroscience. Yeah, you heard me.

One of the side-topics that has come up in what I’ve read so far (enjoying it so much!) is this idea of ruining your platform without even realizing it. In other words, turning your name to mud by accident. In a world where everything can be re-Tweeted half a million times before you blink, it’s easy for one stupid mistake to go viral and effectively ruin your good name for, well, for good. This doesn’t only apply to writers (or the celebrities we so often see spiraling the metaphorical toilet bowl); it applies to everyone. That’s why I wanted to talk about it today, because this is the kind of thing that everyone should know, but which most people never think about.

I’ve spoken before about how anonymity does not truly exist on the internet and how we should watch what we do and say because it can come back to bite us in the ass. In that previous post I was focused on what I called “The Golden Internet Rule”, which is simply “don’t be a jerk on the internet”. This time I’m not talking specifically about being a jerk, but simply about understanding that whatever you choose to talk about on the internet has now become searchable, findable, and quite possibly eternal.

Don’t want to be wearing this for the rest of your days, do you?

I’ll give a personal example, because what better way to show people what you mean than by sharing your own morbid embarrassment?

When I was in university, studying to be a technologist, I had ups and downs. I had chosen my path partially on a whim because of a stressful situation (the course I had originally chosen was cancelled two months before the start of the semester, so I had to pick something else quick or simply not go to school). The result was that I often wondered if I’d chosen the right thing, whether or not I should drop out and choose something else, and was I really suited for this kind of career? I kept pressing forward because change is scary, and eventually I found myself in the fourth and final year of program, having an all-out panic attack. It began to occur to me that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I didn’t know what kind of jobs I was even qualified for, how I would go about applying for them, where the work would end up taking me, or whether I would even be any good in the field. Sure I’d made pretty great grades in school, but the real world is a lot different from the class world. I didn’t know what kind of work I would be doing, but I was pretty confident it would not be writing short lines of computer code to set tiny LED lights to flash on and off at timed intervals.

One night when I was particularly stressed, I went online to a forum that I frequented in those days. I wrote a long post about my concerns, my worries, my stress level. I ranted about things like “wasting time and money on a degree I don’t even understand” and how I would disappoint my parents if I suddenly up and decided to do something different, and how I was terrified of the idea that I might have to move away from home for a job and “why oh why didn’t I choose a career path with a clearer future?!”

It was a rant born of stress, passion, and an overwhelming desire for someone to wrap their virtual arms around me and say that it was going to be okay. I did get that virtual hug from my virtual companions, but I also made a teeny tiny mistake. Within the confines of that rant, I used my full, real name. It wasn’t a concern because most of the folks on this forum knew my real name anyway, but in this particular post I wrote one line that described what my diploma would look like when I graduated, with my full name in the center of it. I added that bit in to make a point concerning my rant, but I didn’t consider what adding my full name in actually did to that post.

Haven’t figured it out yet?

It made me instantaneously  and easily locatable on Google.

For the most part this was a non-issue. I was a nobody that no one cared about. Who would even go looking up my name on Google, and if they did find my post, why would they care? At least that’s what I thought until someone did happen to Google my name and did click on the link that led them to my post. It was my uncle. I can’t recall the reason that he searched my name in the first place, but when he did he happened upon my post, read it, and subsequently wrote me a very long, very concerned email.

I was mortified.

My uncle was just trying to be helpful and calm my concerns, and he was very sweet. That’s not the mortifying part. The mortifying part was that he read my post in the first place. When I wrote that post it was with the intentions that only my internet friends ever see it. I just wanted a little bit of anonymous support from people who I never had to deal with face-to-face. For good or ill, I’ve never been the kind of person who can share their pains and emotions with their closest loved ones, so when one of those close loved ones found my whining, complaining, melodramatic post I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. And while in this case I had the opportunity to go back and change what I’d written (posts on this forum were editable), in another place I may have been stuck with what I’d written forever.

This is what we’re dealing with when we put ourselves out there on the internet, and my example is absolutely nothing compared to what some people have put themselves through. Every one of you reading this right now has seen at least one photo of someone who uploaded their pic on a social network site only to realize later that there was something excruciatingly embarrassing about it. One particular photo that comes to mind is of a teenage girl who took a “selfie” of herself and uploaded it to Facebook before noticing that her vibrator was sitting in plain view in the corner of the pic. As if that’s not mortifying enough, before she noticed it dozens of people had copied it and posted it elsewhere. The picture went viral. Because this girl failed to take a few seconds to actually look at the photo before posting it, she is now an internet meme that will never die.

Whatever you say, whatever you post, whatever you do, it only takes one opportunist to back-up your mistake on his computer before you can backtrack. In this way the internet is forever. Ask anyone who has ever found themselves depicted as a cruel jape on sites like 9gag. It doesn’t matter how much you beg or cry or scream, you can’t erase something from the internet once people have decided to use it at your expense. Even if it is an extreme example and you have grounds for legal action, it only takes one person to store the quote/pic/post away to whip out again at a later date. And the bigger a deal you make out of trying to abolish a bad rep, the bigger a deal people will make out of making sure that it never dies.

This is why we have to be careful, not only when dealing with touchy issues like religion and politics, or when letting our tempers get the best of us online. We also have to be careful with everything we say or do on the internet. Before you say or post or upload, step back and think. Think about how you would feel if your parents (or your children) happened across your post. Think about the repercussions if your employer saw that pic. Think about the veritable shit storm you might inadvertently stir up with your status update.

Basically, just THINK. It’s something we don’t do enough of these days, and with the Internet playing the part of devil’s advocate, one stupid mistake can mean that you name is mud for a very, very long time.

Have you ever said or did something on the internet that came back on you in an embarrassing or painful way? Do you know anyone else who has had to deal with this kind of unintentional reputation ruining? Thoughts and comments?

Actually, this explains a LOT…

As you know, last week it was my birthday. I got a couple of nice presents, but one of them isn’t in my possession yet because it has not yet been purchased. You see, my husband suggested that he would buy me a new bathing suit for the (hopefully) coming summer. I’m not usually the kind to spend much money on such a thing, so he thought I could pick out a really nice one for a change. I loved the idea, but here’s the thing…if I’m going to get a really nice bathing suit, I want to look good in it. So on Saturday night I gritted my teeth and decided that this is it: I’m restarting Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution and this time I’m sticking to it.

Sunday morning started a bit askew, since little missy was up in the middle of the night, which resulted in all of us sleeping in until almost 10 am. But I gritted my teeth, and after a healthy breakfast of whole wheat toast and boiled egg whites, I headed downstairs and did workout number 1. I then attempted to go about my day without resorting to any of the mindless snacking I’m famous for, while waiting for my meatloaf to finish cooking and anticipating the fact that I was going to have to measure my portions to keep from eating twice as much of it as is smart.

So you see, my day was full of willpower. Painful, frustrating willpower. And that got me thinking about something I once read in a article. At the time of reading the article I raised my eyebrows a bit and doubted the reality of the claim, but on Sunday I did a bit of Google research and lo and behold, it looks like it’s true.

Willpower is a finite resource.

I know, I know, it sounds like an excuse, right? But apparently there have been a lot of studies done on this idea, and so far it’s holding water. It looks like the more willpower you use in one area of your life, the less you have left for other areas. In other words, you might struggle all day to keep yourself from snacking, and actually manage it, but then when it comes time to do your exercises you just can’t seem to work up the willpower. It’s not entirely your fault…you haven’t got any left. This explains why you can feel so good about yourself early in the day and happily resist temptations, but later in the day you crash and start (for example) devouring everything in sight.

So does this mean we’re all doomed to failure because we can’t keep up the willpower thing forever? Of course not, although it’s definitely going to make things more difficult. Willpower (apparently) is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised. So the more willpower you are able to exert today, the easier it will be tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. It’s likely to be a slow process, but in the meantime you have to figure out how to dole out your willpower as necessary. If resisting snacks and treats all day depletes your stores so that you can’t bring yourself to exercise later, figure out how to let yourself have a little something, thereby saving that bit of willpower for when you need it. It’s a delicate balance, which in itself probably uses up willpower.

In fact, you know what? It’s not a delicate balance; it’s a vicious, circular cycle that makes me want to punch walls.

*cough cough*

Anyway, I guess the point of this post is that I need to work on my willpower muscle. I’ve worked up great levels of determination before and used up all my willpower after a week or so, and I don’t want that to happen this time. I want to succeed this time because dammit, I want to look good in a really nice bathing suit! Is that so wrong? 😛

Contesting Your Writing

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

99. Writing Contests

To be perfectly honest, it hasn’t been such a long time since I first discovered that the world of writing contests actually existed. Mind you, I knew of the concept of writing contests, but I didn’t realize it was such big business, so to speak. Do a quick search on Google and you will find sites upon sites upon sites toting contests for those brave enough to submit a piece of work. There are contests for short stories, contests for poems, contests for drabbles, contests for every type of genre. There are fun contests amongst fellow writers and serious contests with prizes and/or publication on the line. There really is no way any one writer could even consider them all, never mind enter them all.

Personally I haven’t been able to pluck up the courage to enter any such contests yet, but for those who might be interested I offer this little nugget of advice: research the contest first. Anything with prizes, in particular, is likely to have a laundry list of rules, terms and conditions, and possible sneaky ways to bite you in the ass. A contest from a publisher, for example, may have a clause hidden in the terms and conditions that states that the publisher retains legal rights to reprint your submission without compensation. I’ve heard a few horror stories about things like this, so I urge you, do your homework before submitting to a contest.

And if I ever do pluck up the courage to enter one myself, I promise you will all be the first ones to know!